Why Recycle

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Recycling is one of the easiest steps anyone can take to reduce the impact of humans on the environment. On average, each American produces

Aluminum cans in recycling bin at Portsmouth Recycling Center. (©Ian Harwood; Ecoscene/CORBIS. Reproduced by permission.)

approximately 3.5 pounds of garbage per day. That is 1,500 pounds per person each year—or 90,000 pounds in a lifetime. Without recycling, all this trash ends up in landfills.

In the 1970s many people believed that recycling's greatest benefit was the reduction of the number of landfills because this would reduce the pollution associated with landfills and preserve the land. More recently, researchers have found multiple benefits to recycling.

1. Recycling saves natural resources. Recycling reduces the demand for new materials from the environment. For example, by recycling paper, fewer trees are needed to produce new paper.

2. Recycling saves habitats such as rain forests. By reducing the demand for new materials (such as metals that must be mined and refined) from the environment, more land and habitats can be preserved and/or conserved.

3. Recycling saves energy and reduces emissions. In most cases, it takes less energy to make new products from recycled materials than from virgin raw materials. For example, it takes 95 percent less energy to produce aluminum products from recycled aluminum than from the raw materials of bauxite ore. In general, recycling of materials also produces less pollution than processing raw materials.

4. Recycling can be economical. Recycling is often less expensive than the combined cost of processing new materials and managing waste disposal.

5. Recycling reduces the need for new landfills and incinerators.

Landfills and incinerators can emit hazards to the environment. When landfills leak, hazardous solvents can contaminate underlying ground-water—water that may be used for agriculture or as drinking water. Landfills and incinerators also emit pollution into the air.

6. Recycling reduces the improper disposal of trash, such as littering.

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